How Culturally Competent Is the Australian Football League (AFL)?

By Michael Tynan and Paul Briggs.

Published by The Sport Collection

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Aboriginal players now form eleven per cent of the player base in the Australian Football League (AFL), up from five per cent in 1995, almost five times the proportion of Aborigines in the total Australian population. In early 2012 there were a number of race related controversies prominent in news reporting on the AFL including a recruiter who questioned whether clubs are ‘comfortable’ recruiting Aboriginal players with two Aboriginal parents. The AFL condemned the comments and the club in question sacked the recruiter. More recently Jeff Kennett, former President of Hawthorn Football Club, former Premier of Victoria and Chair of Beyond Blue—a prominent Australian mental health organization, vehemently criticized the AFL for establishing a prayer room for Muslim players at the ‘home’ of AFL, the MCG. His view is that it is “political correctness gone mad” and that “communities should not have to change their “very fibre” to accommodate multiculturalism”. Using these incidents to ground this paper, and the notion of ‘cultural competence’, we explore some of the potential and limitations of the AFL to address the insidiousness of racism which is arguably embedded in aspects of Australian national identity. Theoretically we draw on Critical Race Theory and previous analysis of Australian Football and racism, based on the experience of the Rumbalara Football Netball Club in the Goulburn Valley—an Aboriginal club that has been a part of country football for 15 years. This analysis explores the intersection of Australian values of ‘egalitarianism’ and ‘sport’ with contemporary expressions of ‘whiteness’ and related racist constructions of Aborigines. Together they form a complex site for organizations like the AFL and its constituent clubs to ‘practice’ cultural competence amidst potentially competing priorities of marketing an extremely successful sport and the media coverage which that necessarily entails.

Keywords: Cultural Competence, Australian Identity, National Identity, Whiteness, Racism, Egalitarianism, Critical Race Theory

The International Journal of Sport and Society, Volume 3, Issue 3, pp.191-205. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 616.521KB).

Dr Michael Tynan

Senior Fellow, Kaiela Institute, Rural Health Academic Centre, University of Melbourne, Shepparton, Victoria, Australia

Michael is a Senior Fellow at University of Melbourne’s Rural Health Academic Centre and the Kaiela Institute. He is a social anthropologist with research interests in Aboriginal health, wellbeing and public policy. His research is focused on social inclusion and cultural competency; contemporary racism including the interaction between Australian identity/values and Aboriginal history; and Aboriginal governance. These research interests are grounded in over 20 years’ experience in policy development, advocacy and community development, particularly in Aboriginal affairs.

Paul Briggs

Chair, Kaiela Institute, Shepparton, Victoria, Australia

Paul Briggs OAM is a Yorta Yorta man who has been instrumental in the advancement of Australia’s Indigenous people for many years with key involvements in numerous organizations and movements covering education, sport, health, employment, youth, justice, community capacity building, reconciliation, politics, land, cultural issues and leadership. He is focused on building a sustainable, inclusive and engaged Indigenous community through the empowerment of family and youth. He has a strong belief in the need to build local leadership, including the development of responsible community-based institutional capability. He continually seeks to support social, cultural and sporting activities within and between communities. He is currently President of the Rumbalara Football Netball Club – an Aboriginal football and netball club in the Goulburn Valley, Victoria, Chair of the Kaiela Institute, - an Aboriginal think tank, and Chair of First Nations Foundation.